Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Best Things In Life Are Free

"The moon belongs to everyone
The best things in life they're free
Stars belong to everyone
They cling there for you and for me

Flowers in spring
The robins that sing
The sunbeams that shine
They're yours and they're mine
Love can come to everyone
The best things in life
Are free."

Times being what they are, it's only fitting to pull out an old nugget that has been given fine, if very differing, treatments by two of my favorite musicians, singer Jo Stafford and tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley; The Best Things in Life are Free. Of course, the sentiment of the lyric is timeless in hard times or good times. Furthermore, one can drop the lyric - though the sentiment bleeds through - and just enjoy the music.

This tune was penned by Bud De Sylva, Lew Brown, and Ray Henderson (who also composed the melody for Bye bye Blackbird) for the musical Good News back in 1927 when Babe Ruth was slamming 60 home runs on a moderate regimen of beer and hot-dogs and without steroids, flappers were flapping, The Jazz Singer with Al Jolson opened at the movies, bootleg whiskey fueled the Jazz Age parties, and Bix Beiderbecke was in full swing with his golden toned cornet recording Singin the Blues and Way Down Yonder in New Orleans.
Either side of the road was the Sunny Side of the Street.

Jo's version from 1948:
Jo always stays close to the melody and lets the band swing it behind her but each phrase is HER phrase and is, when she's got a good song, almost always THE phrase that fits the song.

From Chris Albertson's interview with Lester Young, the poet of the tenor saxophone who spent the bulk of his listening time digging singers.

ALBERTSON Jo Stafford is your favorite singer?
YOUNG Yeah, and Lady Day [Billie Holiday]. And I'm through.
ALBERTSON But Jo Stafford does not sing jazz, does she?
YOUNG No, but I hear her voice and the sound and the way she puts things on.
Enough said.

Hank's version - 1961
Hank has always taken a backseat to Coltrane, Rollins, Getz and the other great tenor players of his generation..... and yet -
When the song was right (and he was right) he does something else, a certain flow and a subtle warm tone that no one can touch. Along with This I Dig of You and Remember I think of this solo, especially the first chorus, as a prime example of what he was all about; the way he rolls off of the the intro break unfolding in a gentle bop wave to come out like Errol Flynn, sword in hand down the staircase, cutting and jabbing, eliminating all obstacles to deliver the beautiful line and win Olivia de Havilland's hand; or at least secure some bread for the Merry Men.


Michael Leddy said...

Nice music, Tom. I think that boardgames, cards, picnicking and (of course) stargazing are all due for revival.

I like the boppish "life are" in Jo Stafford's vocal. That's a good Hines-like piano bit in the middle. With Hank Mobley, that's gotta be Wynton Kelly.

(Just so you know, the links are broken as they are — there are some extra characters at the start.)

Tom the Piper's Son said...

Thanks Michael. I appreciate you're noticing the linkbreak - I got the blog up this morning and only noticed afterward that the music wasn't coming through - I'll try to remedy it today.

Tom the Piper's Son said...

...and yes Michael, that's Wynton Kelly all right; entering in with an ambiguous-mysterious handful of notes and jumping back on the lyric train. Grant Green's solo is also very good I think, in his crisply articulate manner.
Also, the Many Times Aforementioned Philly Joe Jones on the kit and Paul Chambers bass.

Trombonology said...

Tom, the moment I saw your title, so appropos for these lean times, I thought of our discussion of ... or, rather, your recommendation of Mobley's "Life," back when I did a piece on another song from Good News, "Just Imagine." ... The Flynn comparison, carried through so evocatively, is perfect.

... This particular Jo record is a very good example, I think, of the swinging way in which she related to rhythm; her timing is truly flawless. And yes, she did play it pretty much straight ('cept for her '50 "Stardust," which is something else) but her melodic modifications, however subtle, were always extremely interesting, musicianly and right.

A terrific, timely and yet timeless post!

Tom the Piper's Son said...

Thanks Elizabeth -
I grow more appreciative of Jo everyday. Thanks for the tip on Stardust. i just read somewhere that they used her version of "Haunted Heart" in the film "Chinatown".
I'll go back through your archives to read about "Just Imagine".
Funny how, with Flynn and Fairbanks, in particular, the silver screen swordfight became an artform unto itself. Not just the swordplay but the sliding down bannisters, swinging on chandeliers, and such. An American older cousin to the Chinese Kung fu movies....This whole swashbuckling genre far removed from the more likely grim, unsportsmanlike (!), and to-the-point hacking away that true fighting necessitated. And here I am comparing Mobley's gorgeous solo to a Flynn is strange.

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